Bahasa Indonesia is said to be one of the easiest Asian languages to pick up, but the constant use of slang words in daily conversation only makes the language sound more foreign.
Indonesians have quite a reputation for their informal language. From abbreviated phrases to words read backwards, there seem to be endless variations to Indonesian slang. If you are intimidated by the excessive number of slang words in the Indonesian vocabulary, then you are definitely not the only one. Learning the local street lingo can be challenging since these words are not always taught in your language class and most cannot be found in the dictionary. If you’re looking for a place to get started, then these 10 fundamental slang words can help you take that first step.
1. Gue, Lu
Gue (gu-ɛ) and lu (lu) are perhaps the most basic slang words to learn, considering how established they are in the daily vocabulary of city locals. Gue is slang for ‘I’ or ‘me’, while lu is for ‘you’. It is widely assumed that these words were coined by the Betawi people as the natives of Jakarta, but they actually have Chinese origins.
2. Cowok, Cewek
We know that there are a number of ways to refer to males and females, be it in English or Indonesian. ‘Boy’ and ‘girl’ respectively translates into laki-laki and perempuan, while ‘man’ and ‘woman’ translate into pria and wanita. While the former is used more casually, the latter is used in more formal occasions. As slang words, cowok (ʧɒ-wɒˈ) and cewek (ʧɛ-wɛˈ) are reserved for very informal situations. I don’t believe there is an appropriate translation for cowok and cewek. Perhaps the closest I could think of is ‘guy’ and ‘gal’, but even then it still doesn’t sit quite right.
“Ah, aku capek sekali!” After a long day of work or an active day outside with friends, you exclaim how capek (ʧɑ-pɛˈ) you are! This colloquial form of ‘tired’ is used far more widely over the formal ‘capai’. The ‘k’ is not pronounced and is there to indicate a guttural stop. Capek is so well accepted in everyday language that it is actually very rare to hear the formal ‘capai’.
4. Nggak / Ngga / Gak / Ga
Don’t be fooled by the different variations, because they all mean one thing: ‘no’. Nggak (ŋ-gɑˈ) is an informal way of saying tidak. The variants of nggak are especially noticeable when texting, however when said aloud there really isn’t much difference between the different spellings. Regardless of whether you enunciate the “ng” (ŋ/) sound, or only blurt out the one-syllabled ga (gɑ), anyone will understand what you’re saying.
You come across something really cool which you thought was, “Keren banget!” This word can be used next to the likes of “so”, “really” and “very” to replace the use of sekali or sangat. Banget (bɑ-ŋɜt) is quite versatile to be used as emphasis for something excessive. In another context, banget is also used as “too” to describe things that are toobig or toosmall, or too something-– you name it. If you’re starving but your portion was too little, you might complain, “Kenapa sedikit banget?”
As another way to say ‘big’, gede (gə-dɛ) is used very commonly to express something of great size. Gede comes from the Javanese gedhe, yet the word is already so well ingrained in Indonesian vocabulary that people tend to use it more often than besar when describing sizes. You can also find gede recognised in the Indonesian dictionary!
When your mates want to know if you’re free to hang out, they’ll ask if you want to nongkrong (nɒŋ-krɒŋ) with them. The term comes from the root word tongkrong, which as a verb becomes menongkrong. Like the typical Indonesian slang that it is, saying the first syllable would make the word too long, so shortening it to nongkrong is necessary. The basic idea behind nongkrong is to get together with friends and hang out to chit-chat with no specific plan in mind.
8. Ngomong, Ngobrol
Although this pair of words both relate to talking, they each have slightly different meanings. Ngomong (ŋɒmɒŋ) is derived from mengomong, which means ‘talking’ or ‘speaking’. Ngobrol (ŋɒbrɒl), taken from mengobrol, refers to making conversation without any particular topic. In other words, ngobrol is closer in meaning to ‘chatting’.
9. Bokap / Nyokap
You’ll probably hear these terms used more often by youth living in the city. Bokap (bɒkɑp) is what Indonesians would call their father, while nyokap (njɒkɑp) is for their mother. What’s interesting about these slang words is they have been used in combination to become a new slang: bonyok (bɒnjɒk), referring to both bokap and nyokap.
Have you experienced being so lazy that you don’t want to move at all? Well, mager (mɑgər) captures that feeling for you. The slang is a result of males gerak (‘lazy to move’) contracted into one word. Mager is an acceptable excuse to give when you’re comfortable staying home and not feeling like you’re up to going out with your mates. It’s also equally effective to use to order your sibling around the house when you need something that requires you getting up from the couch. This particular slang is loved by many for its efficient and succinct way of conveying one’s feelings.
Hopefully you now feel more confident to use your Indonesian slang. After writing this article, gue capek banget! Try having a go yourself at forming sentences with the slang words from this list.
Asia Options Resources
Interested to put your language skills to the test? Check out these platforms for exercising your Indonesian speaking skills, including tips on how to pick up the language.
- Get involved with the Australia-Indonesia Youth Association (AIYA)
- Enter the National Australia-Indonesia Language Awards (NAILA) competition
- Get tips from a veteran learner
Latest posts by Diandra Priambodo (see all)
- Talk Like An Indonesian Local: 10 Essential Slang Words You Need To Know - April 16, 2021
- New Opportunities With the IA-CEPA - November 1, 2020